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The Cabin in the Woods

April 27, 2012

As one of those wonderful people out there in the dark, I have come to realise that the whole charade of taking oneself away to an improbably comfy chair with holes in the arms big enough for a really big drink, and the proximity of others, strangers, who sit in the gloom, eating (EATING, mind), is a very peculiar thing to do indeed. Pitch it now, as if it were a new thing, a fad if you like, that might possibly catch on, and you’d be laughed at. The movies knows this of course (and it knows you know it, and it knows you know it knows it) and so, mostly, the whole timbre of the act is slanted at persuasion and spiel in case the utter absurdity breaks through and you wake up feeling embarrassed and silly for having gone along with it for so long, and you just want to grab your clothes and get home as quickly as possible. Like that one time in college.

And Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard probably know how the game is played out better than most, they are after all the two big kids in that whole po-mo fuck-witcha sand-shifting TV big-hitter Buffy and Lost playground. And with The Cabin in the Woods (Goddard directing and writing, Whedon writing and producing) they get to show just how smart they are, and how manipulation is key to their craft, by putting it right up there on the screen. The whole enterprise is about manipulation.

So, we start off with two guys getting to work in a sophisticated probably underground ‘facility’. They have name tags, white shirts and clip-on ties. Like at NASA, or somewhere. Governement? Military? Evil genius? It’s not clear, but Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford) are gearing up for a big event.

Cut to…college students Dana (Kristen Connolly), Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Jules (Anna Hutchison), Marty (Fran Kranz), and Holden (Jesse Williams) who are all about to head off to a, yes, a cabin in the woods.

Now, from the off, the students are monitored (there is a chap on the roof of their dorm, who watches them drive off, and then taps his ear from which there hangs a tell-tale curly cable). We switch regularly between the kids and the technician guys and – I won’t give anything away – things develop from there.

Well, of course, it’s all very entertaining and lots of fun, if somewhat artificial. There is a clear “my line!” “No! Mine is better!” geek battle going on between Whedon and Goddard to see who can make the better wisecracks and cram in the most pop culture references. This doesn’t always work, but I did like Marty the stoner’s throwaway farewell to Creepy Garage Guy, and one pivotal scene where all five discover distinct horror movie plot development icons (a puzzle box, a pendant, a diary that ends abruptly).

That moment in fact, as we wait to see who will overstep the mark with the particular artifact they’re examining, is surely the one the film is most pleased with. It is also the one where the intent of the movie is at its most naked. It reminded me – stay with this – of Dirk Benedict in the title sequence of The A-Team, doing his “hey, don’t I know you?” look as the Cylon walks past. Seriously. At that point you, and The WhedonGoddardatron, are in a mind meld. It’s the tensest moment of the whole affair because you’re not in a movie any more, you’re sat on the sofa with these guys watching Evil Dead or Witchboard (probably on VHS) and riffing on what you think will happen next.

And it kind of killed it for me. Not stone dead, as there are some wonderful things here (mostly they revolve around Jenkins and Whitford, who are brilliant, and lovely Amy Acker, a Whedon/Goddard alumnus from way back), but it was enough to see behind the curtain and I started to fill in a lot of how it would go down after that. Which is a shame. But, you know, it’s not that I didn’t have a lot of fun, I just kind of hoped we’d see a movie that wasn’t entirely about how ‘movie’ movies are. Just make a fucking movie next time. No-one will really mourn one less homage, guys.

Oh, and Hollywood, enough with the cameos. It’s like a boom shot. Does my head in. Stop it.

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